“Everyone pulls their weight around here,” Gwen said, giving the newest addition to their group a stern glance. “Don’t make the leaders regret taking you in.”
“Okay. So what do you want me to do?” Jared looked uncomfortable, shifting his weight from one foot to another. He didn’t seem to be all that friendly and frequently was seen pacing around the camp muttering to himself.
Jared was crazy and Gwen wasn’t looking forward to spending the day with him.
Despite that, she grinned at him and handed him a basket of dirty clothes. “We get to do laundry today. You’ll love it. Trust me.”
He pulled a face. “Laundry? Isn’t there another job for me to do? One where I can actually contribute to the group?” He set down the basket. “What if I went and hunted out some fresh meat?”
“This is contributing to the group. Believe it or not, some people like to wear clean clothes. The simple pleasures in life are the ones that help the people find the strength to keep on fighting or something along those lines.” She shrugged, “Anyway, they already have hunters out there. The leaders will just send you off to do something worse than laundry. Consider yourself lucky.” Gwen picked up the basket and shoved it into his arms before beckoning him to follow her.
“This is where we do laundry?” He asked once they had reached the water, looking rather uncertain. “The water doesn’t even look clean.”
Gwen knew for a fact that the stream was clean, for she had been the one to stumble across it and test that it was safe. It had definitely passed the test as the nicest water they’d had in a long time.
She sighed. It was going to be a hell of a long day if he was going to be difficult, especially about something like laundry. The other things that he had lined up for him later in the day were much worse than washing other people’s clothes and she was stuck with him for the entire day.
She really wished that she had just rolled over and gone back to sleep and let someone else deal with the crazy man.
“Jared, the kids play in it all the time and we wouldn’t let them do that if we knew that the water wasn’t clean.”
“It doesn’t look safe.”
Gwen glanced at the water before turning to Jared and raising an eyebrow at him. “You got a secret stash we don’t know about? That water is definitely clean and it’s safe.”
“Are you sure? It looks-.”
“Listen Jared, I know that you don’t want to do laundry. Trust me, neither do I but we all have our jobs around here and we do them. So don’t ruin it for us by refusing to work.”
“It’s not that I don’t want to do it.” Jared said, sounding far too much like a pre-teen who was losing an argument. “But the water looks contaminated.”
Gwen sighed and hoped that whoever had assigned Jared to her would step in a puddle wearing only their socks. “I’m sure it does.”
“It does! It’s not safe!”
“Buddy, we’ve been drinking from it since we got here, which was over a week ago. All of us are alive and healthy. The water is fine.”
“Has it always looked like blood?”
Gwen gave the water a quizzical. It definitely looked like water.
“Like blood? It looks like water to me.”
“No. Water is different. Can’t you see there’s blood in the water? It’s clear as day. It’s blood.”
She froze. There was only one way to see blood in the water if you weren’t closely examining it.
“How can you tell?” She asked cautiously.
“Can’t you see it?”
“You’re infected.” Gwen breathed. “You’ve been seeing the colours and you still joined this camp. You’ve put every single one of us at risk.”
Jared shook his head violently. “No. I haven’t, I swear.”
“Then how can you tell there’s blood in the water?”
“I swear I’m not infected.” His voice trembled like leaves during a storm.
“Answer my question.”
“I don’t know!” Jared’s voice reached a hysterical note that wasn’t fitting for a man his stature. “I’m not infected!” If he got any louder, the camp would soon hear him and come running.
With this knowledge, she tried her hardest to rile him up even more. “You’re infected, Jared. You’re going to get us all killed.” Gwen hissed, taking a step back away from him.
“No!” Jared dropped the basket and reached out, capturing her wrist in a crushing grip and refused to release her no matter how much she tried to pull away. “I’m not. I’m not. I’m not. You have to believe me.”
“Jared. If you don’t let go of me right now, I’m going to scream.”
Jared hesitated a second too long for her liking and didn’t actually let go but loosened his grip the slightest bit, yet it wasn’t enough for her to break free.
So she screamed as loud as she dared and ignored all of Jared’s pleas while fighting to get away from him, and when she could no longer scream, she shouted. His grip tightened again, tight enough for Gwen to be sure that if he squeezed any harder, her wrist would snap.
Though she struggled and tried to fight as well as she possibly could, he was much stronger than her.
He slapped a hand over her mouth hard, abruptly cutting off the air flow and pulled her against his body, his arm wrapping around her chest and all but locked her in place. The lack of air forced her to choke on her shouts but she wasn’t overly worried about that. The camp would’ve heard her without a doubt, and they’d be coming.
Only moments later, two men crashed through towards them, one from either side. One was Victor, the self-appointed leader of the camp, and the other was a member of the Night Watch. They both were armed and ready to fight against any threat.
“What’s happening here?” Victor asked. “Jared. I thought you said we could trust you.”
“So what is this?”
“She said that I was infected, that I was putting the whole camp at risk. She’s wrong!”
“And why would she say something like that, Jared?”
Jared froze for a second, his grip slackening. She took the opportunity and twisted out of his grip, stumbling away from him and behind the two newcomers.
“He said there’s blood in the water.” Gwen supplied to Victor once she had regained her breath.
Victor frowned and nodded towards the other male, who dipped his fingers into the stream. He stared at the liquid on his finger for a long moment before cautiously pressing it to his lips, tasting it.
His face contorted into one of disgust and he quickly shrugged off his backpack, digging out a bottle of water and taking a long swig, washing out his mouth. Victor sighed, a morbid note hung in the air like a noose.
“Jared, how did you know that there was blood in the water?”
Jared was silent, staring into the water.
Again, he remained silent. Gwen knew what would happen now.
“Jared. I’m giving you one last chance to answer my question.”
“I’m not infected.” Jared whispered. “I swear.”
“Roll up your sleeves.” Victor demanded, and he reluctantly did so, looking like a man about to sign his own death certificate. A glance towards his veins told them the truth. They were darker, more prominent and thicker than they were supposed to be.
“I’m sorry, Jared. I wish we didn’t have to do this.”
Victor gestured towards the other male, and with a shaky breath of air, the man grabbed his gun and levelled it at the Jared’s head.
She wished that she had closed her eyes sooner so she didn’t have to see the look of pure that crossed Jared’s face. Her ears rung from the sound of the crack of the gun, and she thought that she might be forever haunted by the sound of Jared’s body hitting the ground, devoid of life.
She purposely didn’t look at his body.
“We need to get back to camp.” The man said quietly, looking burdened as he flicked the safety of the gun back on and shoved the weapon into his waistband.
“Thank you, Ryan.” Victor said quietly. “I appreciate your actions, and Gwen, I’m so sorry that you had to deal with that. We should have been more vigilant with him so this could’ve been prevented.”
But no amount of apologies would make her forget the murder of Jared, even if it was in defence of the camp.
“Good evening.” Victor said. His voice was soft and remorseful. “Unfortunately, today we were forced to remove Jared from our camp, as he was infected and attacked another member. We sincerely grieve this loss and we wish to leave our condolences to anyone who was close with him.”
There was silence for a moment, yet no one really was mourning Jared – they all knew him as the crazy man who kept to himself – but mourning because of another loss. “I know that times are difficult right now, but we’ll be moving on tomorrow. The stream has been contaminated and is no longer safe.”
“Are you sure leaving is such a good idea? We only just got settled in here.” One of the women asked with a frown. “The children are already struggling to adjust; moving camp will just make it even more difficult for them. Surely we have some bottles of water left over from the last supply run.”
“I understand that it’s difficult for the children, but there aren’t enough water bottles for the entire camp to stay here for much longer. It could be from an animal or it could be from one of the infected. We don’t know which and it’s not safe to stay here when we’re unsure.”
There was a murmur of disagreement from some people but Victor’s logic was sound. It was far too dangerous to even think about staying. All the work they had put into surviving would mean absolutely nothing in a matter of days.
“Is there anything else that needs to be discussed?” Victor asked. “Alright then. It would be wise if we all went to go get some sleep. Be ready to leave at dawn tomorrow.”
The crowd started to slowly move off towards their respective tents, but Gwen couldn’t find it in her to move. She felt so drained. The day’s events had left her shaken and numb and she wished that she could just wake up and find that everything was a dream.
It was a shame that something like that would never happen.
Only Victor and the members of the Night Watch remained around the fire, chattering among themselves. Though she knew that they were questioning her presence, none of them asked her to leave.
“Dibs taking the second half of the watch.” One of the females said.
“Dibs for second, and Zeke’s coming with us.” The other female in the group said only half a heartbeat later, with a flirty grin towards said male, who winked at her.
The rest of the Night Watch group groaned. “I hate the shotgun rule.” One of them muttered.
“No, you love the shotgun rule; you just hate it when someone beats you to it.” Gwen recognised Ryan’s voice, and she looked up. She watched him, trying to see if the events of the day had shaken him up as much as it had her. Yet, he seemed fine, a grin on his face and bantering with his friends. It made no sense to her.
“Have fun out there, boys.” The flirty girl said with a cocky smile before standing and walking off in the direction that the rest of the camp had gone it, the other two from her watch following her.
“Okay then.” One of the males sighed dramatically. “Let’s go watch for Dracula and his evil minions.”
With that, the other group of three left leaving Gwen and Victor alone.
“I’m truly sorry about what you saw today.” Victor said finally. “But in this world what needs to be done is done; otherwise we face the chance of being infected ourselves.”
“I hate it.” Gwen said quietly. “I want the world to go back to the way it was before.”
“We all do, but we must learn that this world is not going to go back to normal. Not after something like this.”
Gwen gave him a grim smile. “I know.” And with that, she stood. “Goodnight Victor.”